Going to California

Life by the Valley — 9.3

“Elves and dwarves,” Jim said, like an unconvinced person.

“You know,” I said, “like in Cryptonomicon.”

“I remember.”

“So a little over a year ago, Kroll, the expensive-suit-wearing, cigarette-smoking international detectives — the Elves — merged with O’Gara, the down-and-dirty, cigar-chomping armored-car manufacturers — the Dwarves — and for something like a year, the board of directors has been completely blocked, or at least this is what Phil told me.”

“Was Phil supposed to tell you?”

“Sure,” I said with a shrug, then, “Probably not.”

“Why did he tell you?”

“I don’t know. But the elves and the dwarves, they couldn’t agree on the direction of the company, after buying a bunch of little security companies — we do drug testing, background checks—”

“Anti-terrorist driving-technique training,” Jim reminded me.

“It’s one of my greatest disappointments that I haven’t gotten to take the first course yet. So after buying this first wave of companies, the board made up of elves and dwarves was unable to agree on what to do next.”

“Of course.”

“Of course. I mean, elves and dwarves. So growth has ground to a halt, the larger business had kinda ground to a halt. We’re bringing in some money — we did the outside security audit on the first Palm device with a radio in it, so you can get data on the road —”

“I know about that. I want to get one.”

“Me, too. Can you imagine being anywhere and being able to send email, or pull up a webpage?”

“A really crappy webpage.”

“Granted. And we did some big job for 3Com or somebody. As part of some follow-on work, they’ve got people like Tom building a secure server for them.”

“Tom?”

“Cool guy. I’ll introduce you. Anyway, we’re making money—”

“You’re working with Arturo,” Jim reminded me.

“Of course,” I said, making a flourished salute. “Thank you, Yahoo.”

“I had nothing to do with it,” he said. “Different part of Yahoo than I’m in.”

“But we’re doing a lot of work for you guys.” Though I wondered if Jim was tracking Yahoo’s plummeting stock price. “Anyway, it’s not enough. The scanning project I’m on is nowhere near taking off. We need more money to grow to the point where we can make the kind of money we think there is to be made.”

“You came out here to work for a detective agency, and it’s turning into a .com startup.”

“How did you know that?”

He shrugged. “Taher was at Netscape, he has a reputation. And taking on a round of big tech-company funding is how you get the money to do what you’re talking about.”

“Jesus. You make it sound so matter-of-fact.”

“Happens every day.”

“Well, it might happen to us. In addition to the elves/dwarves thing, there was a big, ah, financial misrepresentation by one of the sides, which has led to a sudden desire on everyone’s parts to simply be done with the thing. But they don’t have enough resources to simply break the thing up into its little component pieces.”

“So they’re talking with a big fund that breaks up companies.”

“This really happens all the time?”

“It happens.”

“But they don’t want to sell us. I think Kroll itself will remain independent, but everything else will be harvested or whatever, except us. They’re launching us as a startup, or they’re trying to. Starting in a couple of weeks, I’m going to be running three or more interviews a day, for maybe the next two months.”

Jim laughed. “Sounds like fun.”

“Oh, it will be. We may need to hire a lot of people, fast, if this thing with the Breakup guys goes through.” I thought for a moment. “If this goes through, my life is probably going to be a lot different.”

“You’re just now realizing that?”

“I’m just now realizing that. I only found out today.”

“That’s okay then. But, one thing.”

“Yeah?”

“Why the hell were they bugging you?”

“Oh! The Breakup guys are out here, but the main spy guys in the agency are in New York, mostly. So they were afraid we might take a meeting with the Breakup guys and make some kind of deal behind their back.”

“Okay, that is paranoid.”

“At the end of the day, man, don’t mess with Elves. They will fuck you up.”

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